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Google exec: We won't break users' trust

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AUSTIN, Texas - After concerns over a revamped Google privacy policy surfaced last month, some questioned whether the Web giant is still living up to its longstanding motto: "Don't be evil."

Absolutely, says Vic Gundotra, the man behind social network Google+. The company has to.

"If we do things that are evil, with one click you can leave Google," Gundotra said on the opening day of the South by Southwest Interactive festival on Friday. "If we break the users' trust, we can lose to competitors very quickly."

Under the policy, which went into effect on March 1, Google doesn't collect any more information about users than it did before. But all of that data, from tools like Gmail, Google search, YouTube and Android mobile devices, is now compiled into a single profile of each user's habits.

Privacy watchdogs, including some members of Congress and dozens of state attorneys general, have expressed concerns the policy is too invasive.

Gundotra said Google+ is an important part of the "new Google" that will use those profiles to provide more relevant services (advertisements were the ones that came up again and again) across the company's many platforms.

Before, he said, Google products were developed in "silos," unable to share information with each other.

"There are some things Google could have done better," he said. "If we could build a common notion of your identity and your relationships, we thought, we could make Google better."

For example, he said, on Google+ user could "+1" (the site's equivalent of a "like") a restaurant. Months later, a friend could be using Google search to find a restaurant in the same area and discover it as a recommendation of sorts.

Gundotra, a senior vice-president for engineering at Google, also used his "fireside chat" with tech writer and Alltop.com co-founder Guy Kawasaki to defend the success of Google+.

Last month, Web analytics firm comScore released a report saying that Google+ users averaged just 3.3 minutes on the site for the entire month of January. That came just weeks after Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced the site had hit 90 million users -- up from 40 million in October.

"Google+ is a social layer across all of Google's services," Gundotra said.

Gundotra said the site now has 100 million "30-day actives." But when pressed by Kawasaki for a definition, he said that's people who log in to Google+, then use one of Google's many other products within a month.

So, then, not only does Google+ plus have dramatically fewer than the more than 800 million users Facebook claims, but that return rate doesn't even mean people actually came back to Google+?

Gundotra said it's not legitimate to only study Google+ return visits as a measure of the network's success.

"That's counting only one aspect," he said. "We think that's crazy."

Instead of a Facebook-like standalone network, Google+ works to make all of the Google universe social, he said

That didn't stop him taking a thinly veiled jab at Facebook when asked about allowing developers to create third-party content on Google+ (Think FarmVille, Spotify or Pinterest).

Google has been slow to do so. Gundotra said he wants to make sure the months-old service's programming system is ready before opening it up to outside developers. In contrast, he suggested, Facebook has made several sweeping changes to its interface, sometimes forcing developers to start over from scratch.

"I'm going to release that (programming interface) when I know we're not going to screw over developers," he said. "We hold ourselves to a higher standard. Sometimes that means restraint."
 

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